19 May 2011

Humility, Detachment, and Other Virtues

This week, I finished reading Conversations with Christ, by Peter Thomas Rohrbach. This book is about Saint Teresa of Avila's method of meditation and contemplation. Admittedly, Saint Teresa and I have had our differences. (It sounds strange to have differences with a Saint, but I think that just as different people on earth react differently to one another, even holy men and women in Heaven can connect better with some people than others) I read about half of The Way of Perfection before I was so mad that I had to stop reading. I suppose I wasn't spiritually predisposed to read this book. As I was reading, I felt like none of the topics pertained to my state of life and I was upset by just how detached Saint Teresa's writings are. I think if I read it now, I would feel differently... I hope. Anyways, before I read this book, I asked Saint Teresa to pray for me so that I could learn to love her better and understand her point of view, and the Lord has heard her prayers!

Unsurprisingly, Saint Teresa writes about detachment as a hindrance to meditation. Fortunately, the way she describes detachment is very relatable to me. 

Rohrbach (who is summarizing Saint Teresa's writings) writes:
"The principal hindrances to our love for Christ are two- external objects, to which we donate some of the affection due to Christ; and our own selves (self-love), to which we assign a greater or lesser amount of our interest and concern. We can combat the first source of misplaced love- exterior objects- though mortification, and the second source- self-love- through humility of heart." He goes on to write, "Mortification expresses the procedure of killing those affections which hinder our love for Christ."

Reading this, I remembered a homily given by Father Jim Morrison several months ago about giving up what is good to get what is better. When we give things up, we do it because these things are good. When priests and unmarried people remain celibate, they are not doing it because sex is bad. Rather, sex is so good, that offering it up to the Lord can yield much fruit. When I gave up Dr. Pepper for Lent, it wasn't because there is something inherently bad about cokes, but because my offering to God was worth more. If it were easy for Christ to die on the Cross, what sacrifice would it have been?

Luke 6:13 says "No man can serve two masters." Rohrbach comments, "The more we try to divide our love, the less capable we will be of loving any one thing perfectly.... Mortification and love go hand-in-hand; they increase simultaneously and reciprocally... Our exercise of mortification... should be generous and constant." Saint Teresa, in The Way of Perfection, writes, "Prayer can not be accompanied by self-indulgence."

Rohrbach defines humility as "a virtue which gives us a realistic understanding of our position in the universe through an evaluation of our inherent poverty." He writes, "... Humility strikes a lethal blow at self-love by disengaging us from our native fascination with our own excellence. Pride tends to focus one's affective powers inward upon himself; humility creates a dissatisfaction with self and turns the soul's love outward upon God... Humility is truth."

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing." John 15:5

Without Christ, we can do nothing. The only thing we ourselves are capable of is sin. Rohrbach writes, "This appreciation of our utter dependence upon God represents the first of two mental attitudes necessary for humility; the second attitude consists in a recognition of our inferiority in relation to our fellow-men." (Recall Saint Paul's words in Phil 2:3, "In humility, let each esteem others better than themselves.") He goes on, "Saint Thomas Aquinas (in Summa Theologica).. maintains that we may distinguish two separate elements in a human being- that which is of God, and that which we have of ourselves (namely, sin.) By comparing that which we have of ourselves (sin) with that which is from God in others (all their qualities, save sin), we may justly conclude that we are inferior to each person in the world. This habitual attitude of judging ourselves inferior in relation to God and our fellow-men will engender in us the virtue of humility." (Emphasis added)

I am learning to recognize God working in each of His people and to see the good in them. I also must realize that I can do no good, and the only good in me is from God, to whom I owe all praise and adoration. 

Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us!


  1. You are AWESOME!!! I love reading little pieces of your heart. Thanks for sharing! I am SO excited to see you sooooon. Love and prayers!!!

    p.s. - you called all soda "coke". YES! I love Texas!!! :)

  2. I LOVE YOU!!! Thanks for sharing.

    I think it's perfectly fine to not connect with all the saints. That's why they are all so different!

    I think that is an interesting theory about thinking everyone else better than ourselves. I have always had a hard time reconciling that with Christ's command to "love our neighbor as ourself." I think it's especially hard for me because my default position is to think everyone else wayyy better than myself. I don't think that's healthy either. What do you think?

  3. Ceec,

    I've always known you were very good at loving others.. (one of the reasons you are a GREAT missionary!) You are blessed in that way! Maybe for you, the scripture reads more like "love yourself as your neighbor."

    Just as virtue and holiness look different on each of us, so does sin, and my pride comes in the form of self infatuation (it sounds silly to say it that way, but essentially, that's what it is... I like myself way too much!)

    It is good to recognize God in others, but we have to recognize Him as we ask Him to work through us as well. We're all unworthy of His love, but He pours it out for us just the same!